On Wednesday, November 26, 2014, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management organised a public symposium in honour of Professor Dr h.c. Klaus-Peter Müller, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Commerzbank AG. Prior to the symposium, during an afternoon meeting of the Board of Trustees, Professor Müller relinquished his role as Chairman of the committee to Rainer Neske, who sits on the Management Board of Deutsche Bank. Rainer Neske had already been elected as the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees by unanimous vote back in May. Following his resignation as Chairman, Professor Müller was unanimously elected Honorary Chair of the Board of Trustees.
The topics under discussion at the symposium were issues to which Professor Müller devoted much time and attention in the course of his professional career. What drives decision-makers? What values and incentives, what objectives motivate us to make our decisions? The organisers had invited speakers from three major social spheres – business, ethics and academia – to discuss these issues from their different perspectives: Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz; Professor Dr Dr h.c. mult. Dr.-Ing. Eh. Jürgen Mittelstraß, Director of the Constance Science Forum and President of the Austrian Science Council; Dr Ulf M. Schneider, CEO of Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA.
But first of all, both on his own behalf and on behalf of the whole business school, the President of Frankfurt School, Professor Dr Udo Steffens, thanked his long-time friend and colleague Klaus-Peter Müller for his valuable friendship and support. “With your characteristic cheerful optimism, you have given and continue to give us so much valuable advice – and so much encouragement, as a voice constantly exhorting us to do our very best and achieve our goal of being one of the best business schools in Europe by 2020,” said Professor Steffens in his speech.
Professor Dr Hartmut Kliemt, Professor of Philosophy and Economics and Vice President Research at Frankfurt School, then took over proceedings in order to introduce the various topics for the evening; he also chaired the ensuing debate.
Dr Ulf M. Schneider, CEO of Fresenius, put forward the business perspective, speaking on “Financial incentives – possibilities and limitations”. He started by praising the fact that the discussion would embrace so many different viewpoints; human beings are, after all, characterised by an essential complexity. For this reason, he explained, motivating employees in a company, for example, requires both financial and moral incentives. “We are more strongly motivated by genuine appreciation from the people who matter to us than by money,” continued Dr Schneider. In small organisations, such appreciation is relatively easy to convey. The larger a company, the more important internal rules and values become, providing frames of reference for employees’ activities and actions.
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz, talked about value-based “decision-making principles” – a concept which, he had recently heard, is currently very popular in corporate philosophies. Not without reason, because there is a strong correlation between a company’s value culture and its commercial success. Empirical studies have established this correlation with an impressive degree of clarity. Such values cannot, however, be imposed from above; instead, they must become an integral part of everyday interactions, reflected in the attitudes and behaviour of senior management. The laws of the marketplace should not act as the sole basis for coexistence.
How academics and in particular philosophers regard decision-making processes was then explored by Professor Dr Jürgen Mittelstraß. He reviewed various currents of academic thought in a talk entitled “Why do we act against our better judgement?” He then defended free will and human beings’ concomitant responsibility for their personal decisions against the purely empirical findings of modern neurological research. “Idealism is essential if we want to change the world for the better,” he stated in his concluding remarks.
Finally, Klaus-Peter Müller thanked all the speakers for their insights and emphasised that “we all need values to live by – touchstones that guide our actions.” In the debate that followed the talks, Professor Kliemt raised a number of intriguing questions: at a certain point, do companies become “too big to function” because it is no longer possible to sustain a shared value system? How do we tackle the problem of our long-term responsibility towards the generations who will succeed us in the distant future? What problems are caused when individuals are exposed to very large organisations?
After these and other interesting questions from the audience had been discussed in considerable depth, President Steffens thanked both speakers and guests and invited everybody to attend the subsequent reception, where they could continue to discuss the various issues raised during the debate.